Mark 13:24-37, Isaiah 64:1-6, Psalm 80: 1-7,17-19
We are in the end times.
That’s what a few of our members have said when I’ve called during this time of pandemic. These times are so different, we’ve never seen anything like this before. Such a contagious virus, life is so different, we must be in the end times.
And we are, we are, how do we know- well the apostle Paul and apostle Peter. said that we are in the final age, the end times, and we have been since Jesus resurrected from the dead. We have been in end times for about 2000 years. 1 peter 1:20 He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. 1 Cor 10:11 and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. That is another translation of the phrase- end times, end of the ages. (End of the ages is another translation of the same phrase some use for ‘end times.’)
We don’t know if these end times will last another few months or another few millennia. Yet some see these times and look like Jesus said, to what the indications point to. Like the fig tree- in spring the branch becomes tender, new leaves sprout, well summer is coming. So, same reasoning, pandemic, economic collapse, societal upheaval= the end of the world as we know it. And I will admit that at certain moments during the past 9 months- has it been 9 months? I have had the sense of being in a movie about some kind of apocalypse, when they show a few clips at the beginning to set the scene, when things went so bad- and had a feeling, what if this is really the beginning of the end, of the world as we know it?
I think Jesus calls us to stay alert to what is going on around us. But the point is not knowing the day or hour, exactly how much time is left in the end times, but the point is to watch carefully, to wait and stay alert. Because we do confess that Jesus is coming back to us in our Creed. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. And we do want to be ready, to be waiting in hope for that day.
In this passage he lets us know that In the end times, the world as we know it changes. That can seem scary, but remember for our fellow believers, those saints from the first few decades of the Church- they always saw God bringing about change as a good thing and something to hope for. That the world as we know it, is changing, well that is meant to be good news. If it is God who is doing the changing, if it is God at work, then we wait with hope.
And for God to work in a mighty way is what the passage from Isaiah calls for. Come and make us all quake, even the mountains! Come down from your comfortable heaven God, and help us! Or the psalmist says, wake up your power! Come to save us!
And doesn’t that cry feel like what we’ve longed for in our souls for these many months? Help us, God! Wipe away this virus from our planet! Come save us! Help us see you in each other, help us change our ways! I read one commentary on this passage from Isaiah that compared these cries to how a baby gets separation anxiety at certain points in his development, being away from mom especially will make her cry. There is no understanding the child has of the parent being near but unseen, or that they can truly be safe and cared for by someone else. Rend the heavens, tear them open, and come be right here with us, Isaiah cries with no less drama than an infant’s screams. We are tired of you being beyond that veil of sky; we don’t want to be separated any more. Come to us.
Advent, this season we are in now, is a season of waiting, and hoping for God to come. It is also a season of repentance. A season to consider how we need to stay alert, in the words of Jesus in Mark. How have we been lulled to complacency by thinking we have lots of time? Someday we’ll get around to those things we know we should, someday we will be more like Jesus taught us to be. Our ways of pettiness and division and folly, blatant Injustice and blaming others instead of acting for good, have been revealed, as the word apocalypse means. If it has been revealed to us just how we make a worse mess of things, shouldn’t we be repenting of all of that? What are we waiting for- because the time for that is always, now, according to Jesus. But in the end, even Isaiah recognizes we call on God to come and save us, even when we know we have done wrong. We appeal to our relationship with God- we belong to God, we are the work of God’s hand. And so we trust, even in the hardest moments, that it is out of God’s love for us that God will move. For God to make things change.
I think the longing for the end times, and Isaiah’s longing for God to come and do something, now! Are related. It’s our human longing for God. And I wonder if just acknowledging that longing is part of the staying alert that Jesus tells his followers about.
I think sometimes we cry out to God like Isaiah, come save us!, to move in those big ways that make mountains quake or wipe viruses off the planet with a swipe of a hand- and we forget about the other ways God comes to us. Remember last week the way Jesus, the King of Kings, said he would be present- in the very least important one. And we know this story, we know that the stunning and complete way God would come into the world, would be in an infant: naked, hungry and thirsty, in need of much tender care. We look for God to rend the heavens or make the heavenly bodies change their course, and we forget to look for how God is working in the little ways, in the little ones. We look for God to come down from above, and we forget to notice God coming from below. From within and around us.
Iris gathered something for me every day we were camping. Some bright yellow leaves, a pretty green branch, a stunning red leaf. Small simple gifts to say I love you. God came to me.
A hiker on the trail we were a little too ambitious to have taken on, stopped to advise us that it was time to turn back, the sun would be setting soon. A simple kindness he didn’t have to do. God came to me.
Throughout the world doctors nurses and medical staff work extended shifts because their vocation is to heal. God comes to us.
And yes, praise be to God, those researchers and scientists we have been praying for- somehow in a timespan so much quicker than ever before, not just one but three so far viable vaccines with high rates of effectively preventing Covid- God has been at work, is at work, yes to help, yes to save us.
And there are of course, Other helpers, other servants, other simple acts of kindness, of love. God comes to us.
The world as we know it is changing. In some ways the world is always changing, in these months the change has been accelerated- but we too are called to change our ways. Because we know God comes to us, even in the face of terrible change, we move forward in hope.
And the changes we seek to make are Not to make God come down- but to bring God near to others. We stay alert to how we need God, stay alert to how God is already in our midst, and stay alert to how God can be made known more- more deeply, to more people.
We also know a more complete story than Isaiah- since his time God did rend the heavens and come down, in Jesus. That time and place, though we make it into pretty calendar pictures and creches, that time was a hard time. There was a lot of suffering, a lot of injustice, a lot of crying out for God to come and save. God comes in the midst of our pain. But God came to change the world as it was. By coming so close, in that needy little baby who would reveal the face of God to us. Not a mountain quaking. A little baby, in need.
And since then, since God put on flesh and came to us in a little baby, everything is different. And possibilities open that weren’t open before. What if the world as we know it, could change? Change for the better? What if we could be a part of that? By repenting of all that we know we do wrong, asking God to help us live Christ’s ways, truly? What if the world as we know it, could change, by looking around at all the ways God is present already, all around, below, with in us? What if it made us follow Jesus just that much more- so more could know how God has come, and keeps coming to us? Stay alert, beloved, these are times to stay alert to all the ways God is here, even as we wait for God to come to us again. Amen.